Thursday, November 29, 2012

Alcott Autumn: A Piano for Beth

"Look there! Look there!" Beth did look, and turned pale with delight and surprise, for there stood a little cabinet piano, with a letter lying on the glossy lid, directed like a sign board to "Miss Elizabeth March."

"For me?" gasped Beth, holding onto Jo and feeling as if she should tumble down, it was such an overwhelming thing altogether. --------

"Miss March: "Dear Madam--" "How nice it sounds! I wish someone would write to me so!" said Amy, who thought the old-fashioned address very elegant.

"`I have had many pairs of slippers in my life, but I never had any that suited me so well as yours, '" continues Jo. "`Heartsease is my favorite flower, and these will always remind me of the gentle giver. I like to pay my debts, so I know you will allow `the old gentleman' to send you something which once belonged to the little grand daughter he lost. With hearty thanks and best wishes, I remain "`Your grateful friend and humble servant, "`JAMES LAURENCE' -------

Beth tried it, and everyone pronounced it the most remarkable piano ever heard. It had evidently been newly tuned and put in apple- pie order, but, perfect as it was, I think the real charm lay in the happiest of all happy faces which leaned over it, as Beth lovingly touched the beautiful black and white keys and pressed the bright pedals.

"You'll have to go and thank him," said Jo, by way of a joke, for the idea of the child's really going never entered her head.

If you will believe me, she went and knocked at the study door before she gave herself time to think, and when a gruff voice called out, "come in!" she did go in, right up to Mr. Laurence, who looked quite taken aback, and held out her hand, saying, with only a small quaver in her voice, "I came to thank you, sir, for..." But she didn't finish, for he looked so friendly that she forgot her speech and, only remembering that he had lost the little girl he loved, she put both arms round his neck and kissed him.

If the roof of the house had suddenly flown off, the old gentleman wouldn't have been more astonished. But he liked it. Oh, dear, yes, he liked it amazingly! And was so touched and pleased by that confiding little kiss that all his crustiness vanished, and he just set her on his knee, and laid his wrinkled cheek against her rosy one, feeling as if he had got his own little grand daughter back again. Beth ceased to fear him from that moment, and sat there talking to him as cozily as if she had known him all her life, for love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride.

-Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"

I know, it's a long quote, but I couldn't pare it down any further. I love that chapter so much! In honor of Beth's love of the piano, I am sharing a recent piano makeover I did.

I am not a great pianist (Erika is, just FYI.)  But I truly love to play the piano. My parents and my poor piano teacher Gwen can rest assured that the 8 years of lessons at least paid off in happiness in my heart, even if they didn't pay off in any useful abilities.

My husband hates moving things. He mysteriously develops an illness whenever we have to move. We did it every 9 months of the first several years of marriage, and I began to see that pattern.

Pianos are not easy to move.

My husband has banned me from Craigslist.

Buuuuuuuuuuuut, after suckering family and friends into dragging this thing in and out of a pickup truck, a chalk paint makeover, and six months of piano music being played in our home, Hubby admits that he truly likes the piano! It's a Christmas miracle!

 Do you like that slurpee in the "before" pic? we like to class things up around here.

Here's the nitty gritty:

Homemade Chalk Paint
(Starting to understand the chalk paint obsession amongst bloggers. Awesome stuff- I didn't have to sand or prime or ANYTHING!!!)

Mix 1 cup latex paint to 1-2 tablespoons of Plaster of Paris
(I found it easier to just mix some water into the plaster first so it wouldn't form any clumps)

After mixing, paint on with a sponge roller, or brush (I just used a normal paintbrush)
and REPEAT. The first coat will be pretty light. A second coat is important. 

Sand to distress as desired. You can apply vaseline to edges before painting to make distressing easier, but I find it's not difficult to distress without it and I worry about using too much vaseline, so I was happy with this method.

Seal the job with Furniture wax if desired. 
I still haven't gotten around to waxing, but it is seriously durable stuff!

  Sanding is a piece of cake when you only have to do the edges!

 I added some plain hardware, although I am on the lookout for some crystal knobs :)

Christmas Music, here I come!!!

Framed here is a watercolor print of the Alcott family home, Orchard House. It was painted by May Alcott, the youngest sister of Louisa.

And that's my piano! I love it almost as much as Beth loved hers, even if I can't elicit the same beautiful music from mine :/ 
Have a lovely day!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Alcott Autumn: Blessed Banner

Then it was that Margaret, sitting alone with tears dropping often on her work, felt how rich she had been in things more precious than any luxuries money could buy in love, protection, peace, and health, the real blessings of life. 
-Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

We are so blessed. I have been trying a different kind of experiment this month. A few years ago, a church leader of ours challenged us to occasionally say a prayer that asked for nothing, but only expressed thanks. I have done that from time to time and it has been a great reminder for me of how truly blessed I am. This month, in honor of Thanksgiving, every night when we kneel down in our family prayer, I only thank a loving Heavenly Father for the many blessings He has bestowed on our family. At first, it was hard to not ask for blessings; particularly for people near us who might need them. But as I thanked Him for those loved ones, I knew that he was mindful of their needs and would pour out whatever blessings he had for them, and it was okay for me to just be thankful for having them in my life. He will take care of the rest.

I highly recommend trying this out from time to time :)

So as a reminder of how blessed we are in "The real blessings of life," I made a simple little banner to that effect. I printed the letters on 8.5X11 paper
 (Here are the image files if you'd like to make your own. Just remember the letters on the left are right side up and the ones on the right are upside down. This is so that you can reverse your triangles and get 4 to a page.)

(I printed on cream colored paper) And then I used some gold acrylic paint and just brushed the edges of the paper to give it an aged look. 

Then I hung it from a frame with jute string and the cutest mini clothespins ever! They are only $1.50 for a pack at Wal Mart in the craft section. 

And that is it. I am also thankful for kids that keep rounding up all our fall themed stuff and sticking it on this table. At least it's consistent. :)

Have a very blessed day!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Alcott Autumn: Gratitude Pumpkins

"With tears and prayers and tender hands, Mother and sisters made her ready for the long sleep that pain would never mar again, seeing with grateful eyes the beautiful serenity that soon replaced the pathetic patience that had wrung their hearts so long, and feeling with reverent joy that to their darling death was a benignant angel, not a phantom full of dread. When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was out, Jo's place was empty, and the room was very still. But a bird sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, 
and thanked God that Beth was well at last." 

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women Chapter 40

I can hardly read this passage from Little Women without weeping myself into dehydration.  And it isn't just the sorrow of the scene that gets me---it's the gratitude the March family feels in spite of losing their sweet Beth.

I'm fascinated by gratitude.  It's spiritual, it's polite, and it's practical.  I've read that grateful people even have increased longevity and improved psychological health.  And in a turbulent election year, I'm willing to bet that every American---Republican or Democrat---would shake hands and agree that gratitude is a virtue.  No argument there.

Then why am I not more grateful?  

Why did I find myself grumbling this morning about the half-chewed pickle on the floor when I should have been thankful that I have a floor and jar of pickles in the fridge and children to chew them in the first place? 

Or why did I stand on the scale and moan about my less-than-perfectly-fit body?  Why didn't I say a little prayer of thanks instead that my body is healthy and strong?

It seems like wherever I can find fault, I can also find blessings.  It's as though the holes in my life are really just windows to see the abundant grace that lies quietly behind it all.  

The trick is being willing to see past the holes in the first place.

Gratitude isn't my strength.  But I want it to be.  So I'm taking a page out of Little Women today and looking for the silver lining in my half-chewed, flabby-thighed life.

Rather than regretting my decision to plant so many fertile pumpkin plants in the garden this year, I decided to round up all the pumpkins that didn't get carved for Halloween and put them to grateful use.

After considering what our family's greatest blessings were, I wrote them down on slips of craft paper with a white-out pen and then hung them on the pumpkins with twine.

Seeing the blessings all in a beautiful row makes me happy.  And I guess that is the point.

Happiness is there for the taking.  
But sometimes it helps to tie it to a pumpkin stem as a little reminder.

Gratefully Yours Today,

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Alcott Autumn: Tea Towel Wrapping

“A weekly meeting will be held at Kitchen Place, 
to teach young ladies how to cook. 
Hannah Brown will preside, 
and all are invited to attend.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women Chapter 10 

My husband's very first Christmas gift to me was a kitchen mixer.
 It was not his finest gift-giving day.

Now, to be fair, he had never purchased a Christmas gift for a wife before.  How was he supposed to know that all those hints about perfume and sweaters and shoes between November and December 24th were really his Christmas shopping list "in code"?

In my own defense, when I opened my gift, I didn't leave the room sobbing.  I didn't burn my bra in a how-dare-you-expect-me-to-cook-for-you-feminist fashion.  I didn't even moan.  Nope.  I stayed there.  I stayed there under that tree and willed myself to be grateful for the heap of nuts and bolts and wire and steel that was my first Christmas away from home.  

Sniffle.  Sniffle.

That was 16 years ago.  A lot of things have changed since Christmas of 1996.  I don't wear perfume as much as I used to.  I've shrunk every sweater I've ever owned.  And I have yet to find a pair of shoes that make my legs look sexy.

But I have used that darn mixer almost every day of our marriage.  

My husband is too sweet to rub in the obvious---that the mixer was a good idea after all.  I'm not saying it was the most magical gift.  I think I would have been more spellbound by a brick that I was with that mixer.  But it was a practical gift, and a gift that has blessed our family ever since.

So, in the spirit of simple and practical and lasting gifts, here is a little offering that I've been experimenting with lately.

This is a cookbook wrapped in a tea towel and "garnished" with utensils.

I purchased a 5-pack of these white flour towels at Walmart for under 5 dollars.  After choosing my cookbook and laying it on the towel, I tinkered with the folds a bit to make a pocket for the spoons by overlapping the bottom fold over the top fold.  I also tucked the ends of the towel under to make a "bow" on top.  The basic tutorial for this technique (bojagi or furoshiki wrapping) can be found here

I'm thinking this bundle would make a great hostess or wedding gift.  It might even be worthy of a spot under the Christmas tree.  It's not necessarily the flashiest present, but it is one that your recipients will appreciate for years to come.

If, however, you are a husband considering this for your wife (especially in your first year of marriage), I suggest attaching some jewelry and chocolate to the mixing spoons.

Just to be safe.

Sharing at . . .


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Alcott Autumn: Pecan Wreath

“Here’s a nut, there’s a nut;    
Hide it quick away,    
In a hole, under leaves,    
To eat some winter day.    
Acorns sweet are plenty,    
We will have them all:    
Skip and scamper lively    
Till the last ones fall.” 
-"The Skipping Shoes," Louisa May Alcott

When I think of Louisa May Alcott and fall, I just feel the need to have orange and yellow leaves all around me, a warm crackling fire, and crisp air outside. Unfortunately, I don't live in Massachusetts.  There are no autumn leaves where I live. It is lovely weather; too lovely to turn the leaves on the three trees that happen to have foliage here, so I find myself without many options when it comes to natural fall decor. Luckily, I do have access to free pecans that I like to shell while watching tv.  I found a box in the garage from a couple of years ago that I had forgotten about, and figured they would really charm up an old grapevine wreath. 

I just hot glued shelled pecans all over. How's that for a tutorial? :)

I liked it, but wanted to add a little bit of color, so I added a small berry wreath to the inside.

Voila! Super easy craft, and pretty cute, I think. I will say that I wouldn't leave that candle burning past the picture taking because I am pretty sure grapevine wreaths and old pecan shells are both a tad bit flammable... Have a lovely day!

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